Posts Tagged ‘Catalonia’

Spanish Socialist Sanchez succeeds Rajoy as prime minister

June 1, 2018

Socialist Pedro Sanchez took over as Spain’s prime minister on Friday, after outgoing leader Mariano Rajoy lost a parliamentary confidence vote triggered by a long-running corruption trial involving members of his center-right party.

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Spain’s Socialist (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez walks with fellow party members Jose Luis Abalos and Adriana Lastras as he arrives at Parliament to attend the final day of a motion of no confidence debate in Madrid, Spain, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Socialist party head Sanchez becomes Spain’s seventh Prime Minister since its return to democracy in the late 1970s following the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

But Rajoy’s departure after six years in office casts one of the European Union’s top four economies into an uncertain political landscape, just as another – Italy – pulled back from early elections.

Sanchez won Friday’s no-confidence motion with 180 votes in favor, 169 against and 1 abstention.

He suggested on Thursday he would try to govern until the scheduled end of the parliamentary term in mid-2020. But it is unclear how long his administration, with only 84 Socialist deputies in the 350-member legislative assembly, can last.

With most Spanish parties and Sanchez himself being pro-European, investors however see less broader political risk there than in Italy.

Anti-establishment parties in Rome revived coalition plans on Thursday, ending three months of turmoil by announcing a government that promises to increase spending, challenge European Union fiscal rules and crack down on immigration.

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 Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, gestures as he attends a session of the Upper House of Parliament in Madrid (AFP Photo)

“We’ve had a rude awakening of European political risks this week… but the situation in Spain is very different from Italy,” said Michael Metcalfe, head of global macro strategy, State Street Global Markets.

“The parties leading in the polls in Spain are centrists so we’re not getting the proposals for fiscal extremes as we have in Italy.”

Many observers said Sanchez was in any case unlikely to call any vote until after European, local and regional elections take place in May next year.

He has already committed to respecting a budget passed by Rajoy, and the fragmented parliament means Sanchez will find it hard to row back on structural reforms passed by his predecessor, including new labor laws and cuts in healthcare and education.

Leftist Podemos, which will offer parliamentary support to Sanchez’s government, is also unlikely to gain big influence over the new Prime Minister, who is keen to differentiate his Socialist party from its anti-austerity ally and win back centrist voters.

Rajoy had conceded defeat prior to the no-confidence vote, earlier telling deputies: “Mr Sanchez will be the head of the government and let me be the first to congratulate him.”

Rajoy’s position had become increasingly untenable, undermined by his status as head of a corruption-tinged minority government as well as a divisive independence drive in the wealthy region of Catalonia.

The Basque Nationalist Party, whose five seats were key to Sanchez securing enough parliamentary backing, withdrew support from Rajoy after dozens of people linked to his center-right People’s Party (PP) were sentenced to decades in jail in a corruption trial.

Two Catalan pro-independence parties as well as Podemos also backed Sanchez. Market-friendly Ciudadanos, leading in the national opinion polls, was the only major party that supported Rajoy.

Sanchez, who is expected to be sworn in by Monday and appoint his cabinet next week, has promised to start talks with the Catalans but said he will not give them an independence referendum.

editing by John Stonestreet

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Tensions rise on Catalan streets as divisions over secession deepen — “Cultural violence and hate remain and that should be of huge concern.”

May 29, 2018

 

From pro-independence yellow crosses vying with Spanish flags on beaches to party offices vandalised, Catalonia has seen a rise in tensions as divisions over secession from Spain deepen.

“There is latent violence, violence that can be felt in the air but doesn’t usually materialise into physical violence, and it’s on the rise,” warns Sonia Andolz, a political expert in conflict analysis at the University of Barcelona.

© AFP / by Daniel BOSQUE | A woman sits on the beach among yellow clothes shaped as crosses near Barcelona during a protest in support for Catalonia’s jailed separatist leaders

“There is a rise in tone, confrontation between people who push or insult each other. Hate speech against others is becoming normal.”

Over the past weeks, this region of northeastern Spain with 7.5 million people has been the scene of a war of symbols.

Independence supporters have filled streets, buildings or beaches with yellow crosses or ribbons, the colour used to protest against the jailing of separatist leaders after a failed independence bid last October.

Those who want to remain in Spain then promptly remove these symbols.

Early this month, police had to intervene to prevent two groups from clashing in Barcelona.

Last week in Canet de Mar, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the Catalan capital, three independence supporters were injured when a group of hooded people destroyed a “cemetery” of yellow crosses installed on the beach.

On Sunday, anti-independence protesters in Barcelona tried to force a police officer to remove a yellow ribbon hanging on the city hall, and then filled a beach with Spanish flags.

The conflict even reached the regional parliament where a session was interrupted on Friday because Carlos Carrizosa, a lawmaker for the main anti-independence party Ciudadanos, removed a yellow ribbon from a seat.

The political situation in Catalonia remains blocked as Madrid refuses to restore direct rule in the region because its new president Quim Torra has named four jailed and exiled separatist leaders as part of his regional government.

– Attacks on party HQs –

While the independence movement is far from new in Catalonia, tensions erupted in earnest after a banned independence referendum on October 1 which was marred by police violence.

The jailing of separatist leaders and a failed declaration of independence on October 27 — rejected by around half of the population in Catalonia — also provoked tensions.

Protests on both sides of the divide then increased.

While not a major force in Spain, far-right groups waded in, leaving a trail of assaults against independence supporters.

Meanwhile separatist protests that had always been peaceful started getting disruptive with demonstrators clashing with police in March.

Political parties have not been spared either.

They have denounced acts of vandalism against their offices, from graffiti to broken windows.

The office of Ciudadanos in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Catalonia’s second biggest city, has been vandalised 13 times since 2015, says its manager Miguel Garcia.

Some of these acts involved filling the entrance with animal faeces.

“It’s just another sign of the tension that Catalonia is going through, there are people who don’t tolerate our ideas,” says Garcia.

Ciudadanos has counted around 30 acts of vandalism in the northeastern region over the past year, a similar figure to that tallied by the Catalan branch of Spain’s Socialist party, also against independence.

Pro-independence parties have also suffered but according to the ERC separatist party, they don’t count them so as not to convert “one-off events into a category.”

“Some want people to think that Catalan society is becoming radical and uses violence, but that’s not true,” says David Bonvehi from the PDeCAT, the party of deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.

The PDeCAT saw one of its office in Barcelona covered in faeces on Monday.

– Boiling frog –

In an article in Catalonia’s La Vanguardia daily, writer Antoni Puigverd compared the situation in the region to the boiling frog syndrome.

That says if a frog is plunged into boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is put into tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will be cooked to death.

“This very low intensity violence, this vandalism, these ritual clashes… are the warm water in which the Catalan frog is bathing as it tries to ignore that the fire is still on, and every day the temperature rises a little,” he wrote.

Andolz, who has experience mediating conflicts in the Balkans and Middle East, doubts that physical violence will become widespread but warns the situation “is more dangerous than it seems.”

“In conflicts, physical violence is the worst but the easiest to stop,” she says.

“Cultural violence and hate remain and that should be of huge concern.”

by Daniel BOSQUE
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AFP

Catalonia: German prosecutors push for Carles Puigdemont’s extradition

May 22, 2018

The Schleswig-Holstein state prosecutor is advancing his case for the extradition of former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont. However, the state’s top court has ruled that Puigdemont cannot yet be rearrested.

    
Puigdemont in Berlin

The public prosecutor in the state of Schleswig-Holstein is preparing the paperwork to extradite former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to Spain, where he would face charges of rebellion and disturbing the public order following a referendum last autumn in which a majority of voters expressed a clear preference for the semiautonomous region’s secession.

On Tuesday, however, a court ruled that Puigdemont, who was taken into custody by German authorities in March at the request of Spain, could not be rearrested because he doesn’t pose a “flight risk.”

Puigdemont, who on April 6 was ordered released pending a decision, is currently in Berlin. A court had already ruled earlier this spring that he could not be extradited on charges of rebellion.

mkg/kms (Reuters, dpa, AP)

Madrid moves to block second Puigdemont comeback bid in Catalonia

May 9, 2018

Spain’s executive said Wednesday it would block Carles Puigdemont from being re-appointed president of Catalonia, putting pressure on the separatist camp to pick another candidate and form a regional government after months of limbo.

© DPA/AFP/File / by Marianne BARRIAUX | Catalonia’s ousted leader Carles Puigdemont attends a meeting with members of the Catalan political platform “Junts per Catalunya” in Berlin on April 18, 2018

Madrid has requested the Constitutional Court cancel a reform voted for last week by Catalonia’s majority separatist parliament that would allow Puigdemont — currently in self-exile abroad — to be appointed president without having to be present, government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.

The court will have to examine the request and rule on it but while it does that the reform will automatically be suspended, which means Puigdemont won’t be able to be appointed as planned later this week.

Mendez de Vigo said this meant the Catalan parliament would not be able to call a session to appoint Puigdemont “at the risk of committing the offence of disobedience”.

Puigdemont’s allies had announced Saturday they would try and have him appointed by May 14.

But they also recognised that if they couldn’t, they would pick an alternative candidate to unblock the political impasse in Catalonia, which was put under direct rule by Madrid on October 27 after a failed secession bid.

That day, Rajoy also sacked Puigdemont and all his ministers after the regional parliament declared independence following a referendum that wasn’t sanctioned by Madrid and was banned by the courts.

He also called snap regional elections for December 21, which separatist parties went on to win, once again getting an absolute majority in parliament.

By then, Puigdemont had already left for Belgium in self-imposed exile.

But since then, all candidates proposed by the separatist camp to lead Catalonia have fallen flat, as they are either abroad and wanted by Spain, or already in prison, charged with rebellion.

Critics of the independence camp have charged they are merely dragging the process out to try and garner sympathy.

Speaking in the Senate on Tuesday, Rajoy slammed the separatists’ attempts to have Puigdemont re-appointed.

He accused them of “having put Catalan politics in an absurd loop in which the personal interests of one person — just one — are placed before the collective project of an entire society”.

Catalan separatists, however, say Puigdemont is their legitimate leader as his Together for Catalonia grouping was the most voted out of all separatist parties in the December elections.

They also say the rebellion charge against him and others is disproportionate, and describe those already in jail in Spain — like former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras — as “political prisoners”.

by Marianne BARRIAUX
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AFP

Catalan separatists want leader-in-exile Puigdemont as president

May 6, 2018

Catalan separatists, meeting in Berlin, vowed Saturday to attempt once again to get their leader-in-exile Carles Puigdemont reinstalled as president of the Spanish region while adding that they don’t want to hold fresh elections.

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VP of the Catalonia’s parliament Josep Costa (L), former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont (2-L) and Catalonia JxCat party spokesperson, Elsa Artadi (2-R) are seen prior to a work meeting with members of their parliamentary group (EPA Photo)

“We don’t want new elections,” said Eduard Pujol, spokesman for Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia grouping.

However an attempt will be made to install the former Catalan president by May 14 at the latest, he added after talks with Puigdemont after talks in Berlin.

Puigdemont was sacked by Madrid after Catalonia made a declaration of independence last year following a regional referendum not sanctioned by the Spanish government.

The Catalan independence leader then left for Belgium where he lives in self-imposed exile. An earlier attempt to get him reinstated was blocked by a Spanish court.

Puigdemont was detained in Germany in March after Spain issued a European arrest warrant against him. He was later released on bail.

On Friday the pro-independence Catalan parliament backed a law allowing him his investiture while abroad, something the Spanish government has ruled out.

Ines Arrimadas, leader in Catalonia of the anti-independence Ciudadanos party, has rejected this “Puigdemont law,” describing it as “tailor-made for a fugitive.”

Since he fled Spain Puigdemont has been a divisive figure among the separatists.

On Saturday the influential grassroots independence group ANC announced the results of an opinion poll, saying that most of its members support the return of the “legitimate president.”

However, if this proves impossible, ANC supporters want a new government formed without a return to the ballot boxes.

The regional parliament must elect a new president by May 22 or organize fresh elections.

If Puigdemont is not reinstalled, his supporters will propose that ANC leader Jordi Sanchez, currently imprisoned in Madrid over the failed independence bid, be given the job.

But last month Spain’s Supreme Court rejected a request by Sanchez to be let out of jail and sworn in as the regional head.

If that option proves impossible “we will open the door to another alternative,” Pujol told reporters in Berlin, adding only that “none of the names you have speculated about are on the table.”

The Spanish press has mentioned economist Elsa Artadi, who is an ally of Puigdemont.

AFP

Police up security in Catalonia as more protests loom

April 4, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Authorities say security will be increased in Catalonia, particularly in front of government buildings and European institutions
BARCELONA (AFP) – Police upped security Wednesday in front of government buildings in Catalonia and provided special protection for several political leaders, judges and prosecutors as further pro-independence protests loom, authorities said.Separatist activists have in the past weeks taken advantage of the void left by a renewed crackdown on the restive region’s independence movement to step up their protests by blocking roads and clashing with police, raising fears of radicalisation.

“From today (Wednesday) we are implementing a new plan to guarantee security and public order with regards to the various scenarios that could take place in Catalonia,” a spokeswoman for the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s police force, told AFP, without giving further details.

Enric Millo, the central government’s representative in Catalonia, added that “security measures have been increased for people and public equipment that have been targeted by protests, graffiti or assaults recently”.

The central government’s representative office said security would be upped particularly in front of its buildings in Catalonia, as well as European institutions.

Several political leaders, judges and prosecutors will also be given special protection, it added, without saying who.

Judge Pablo Llarena of the Supreme Court, who is in charge of proceedings against separatist leaders, is already under protection after having received threats, the interior ministry has said.

Millo said these measures were implemented due to “an increase in belligerence” in the past weeks as separatists have protested against the jailing of more pro-independence leaders in Spain and the detention of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont in Germany.

Puigdemont faces extradition to Spain after a failed bid to secede last October that saw Madrid take Catalonia’s autonomy away and impose direct rule.

The protests were called by the Committees for the Defence of the Republic, groups of pro-independence activists spread out across the region.

In Barcelona, some protesters tried to occupy the central government’s representative office, heavily guarded by police, on several occasions at the end of March, leaving more than 100 people injured.

In a joint statement last week, these groups said “the Catalan spring” had “erupted,” in reference to a series of protests which began in Arab nations in 2011.

German lawyer says Berlin cannot extradite former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont

March 29, 2018

A former German Supreme Court justice has been representing the ex-Catalan leader since his arrest. He says deporting Puigdemont would allow Spanish conflicts over Catalan independence to play out on German soil.

Carles Puigdemont

A lawyer for the embattled ex-president of Catalonia called on German officials on Wednesday to publicly confirm that they will not extradite Carles Puigdemont to Spain. Attorney Wolfgang Schomburg told the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily that Germany must act “without delay.”

Otherwise, Schomburg said, Berlin risks “letting Spanish conflicts of interest be carried out on German soil.”

Read more: Catalan independence – What you need to know

The lawyer also pointed out that, in order to participate in Spain’s “request for judicial assistance,” it would have to be specifically approved by Justice Minister Katarina Barley.

And Schomburg isn’t just any defense lawyer. He is a one-time German Supreme Court justice, and the first German elected by the UN as a judge for the International Criminal Court, serving on tribunals of cases involving the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Schomburg has been representing Puigdemont since he was arrested in northern Germany on Sunday as he was returning to Belgium from Finland. On Monday, German officials announced they won’t make a decision about releasing the former president before the weekend. His supporters have blocked roads in Barcelona and called for mass demonstrations in protest of his detention.

Companions arrested

Puigdemont had been living in exile in Belgium since last October. He fled Catalonia after being charged with rebellion for declaring the region independent from Spain following a controversial independence referendum.

Earlier on Wednesday, three of the men who were accompanying Puigdemont from Finland were arrested in Spain for “sheltering a criminal.” Two of three are Catalan regional policemen.

A number of Puigdemont’s former ministers have also been jailed for inciting rebellion.

In a symbolic show of defiance to Madrid, Catalonia’s parliament voted on Wednesday to keep Puigdemont on as president, despite the fact that he cannot serve as he sits behind bars in Germany.

http://www.dw.com/en/german-lawyer-says-berlin-cannot-extradite-former-catalan-leader-carles-puigdemont/a-43175603

Catalonia separatist movement risks taking radical path

March 28, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Daniel BOSQUE | Protesters scuffle with riot police at a demonstration in Barcelona Sunday as analysts say the pro-independence movement is at risk of becoming radicalised

BARCELONA (AFP) – Increasingly hardline Catalan separatists are taking advantage of the void left by the decapitation of the region’s independence movement to step up their protests by blocking roads and clashing with police, raising fears of radicalisation, analysts say.Spanish authorities have jailed nine Catalan separatist leaders and called for the extradition of six others who have fled abroad, including Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont who was arrested Sunday in Germany.

This crackdown on the independence movement’s established leaders “generates incentives for the adoption of a hardline” by radical separatists, said Berta Barbet, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

“Since the conflict is increasingly more raw and social divisions are greater, the risk of radicalisation is ever more real,” she added.

But Barbet said she did not believe Spain will see a return to the armed violence that plagued the country when Basque separatist group ETA and Catalan nationalist group Terra Lliure were active.

ETA, accused of killing more than 800 people in a decades-long campaign of bombings and shootings to establish an independent Basque state, announced it was disarming in April 2017.

Terra Lliure, which disbanded in 1995, committed its only killing with a bomb attack in 1987.

– ‘Catalan spring’ –

After years of peaceful protests in Catalonia in favour of independence, demonstrations on Sunday against Puigdemont’s arrest led to clashes with police that left nearly 100 people injured.

Catalan police decked out in riot gear shoved and hit demonstrators with batons to keep the crowd from advancing on the office of the Madrid government’s representative in Barcelona.

Demonstrators set fire to recycling containers and threw glass bottles, cans, and eggs at police.

Despite appeals for calm from some separatist leaders, the protests called by the radical Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) continued Tuesday with protesters blocking major motorways in the wealthy northeastern region of Spain.

“The Catalan spring has erupted,” the group said in a statement on Sunday, in a reference to a series of protests which began in Arab nations in 2011.

“We have crossed the point of no return… we will reappropriate the streets and stop the country,” the statement added in a call for a general strike in Catalonia like the ones held late last year when the region’s separatist crisis heated up.

During those strikes demonstrators blocked dozens of roads across Catalonia and forced the closure of key tourist spots such as Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia church.

– Paralyse the state –

The legal action against Catalan separatists “is activating the social movement in the streets again, reinforcing it and making it more tense,” said Jordi Amat, the author of several essays on the independence movement.

The failure of Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence, which led Spain’s central government to take direct control of the region in October and launch the crackdown on separatist leaders, has caused the pro-independence movement to change strategy, he added.

Whereas before the goal was to “gain legitimacy internationally”, now “the only strategy they can use is destabilisation” of the Spanish state, Amat said.

This explains why Catalan separatist lawmakers, who regained their absolute majority in the Catalan parliament at snap polls in December, keep proposing candidates for regional president who are disqualified by their legal problems such as Puigdemont, he added.

“For many separatists, this destabilisation also should be taken to the streets… there is a will to paralyse the mechanics of the state,” Amat said.

– ‘Offside’ –

Catalonia’s two main separatist parties, the conservative PDeCAT and the leftist ERC, tried timidly to lower tensions at the end of last year while the smallest separatist party, the far-left CUP, has called for greater disobedience.

The conservative party is under pressure from its leader, Puigdemont, to take a tougher line against Spain while the ERC has been severely shaken up by the jailing of its leader, Oriol Junqueras, and the flight abroad of its number two, Marta Rovira.

“The leaders who could channel the movement have found themselves offside and this is a scenario that allows the CUP to promote its strategy,” said Amat.

The CRD organisers of demonstrations are aligned with the CUP party.

Barbet, however, believes that the threat posed by the courts may divert the separatists from a more radical path.

“Virtually everyone in power can end up with serious legal problems and many think twice before making a decision,” she said.

That’s why no separatist leader “clearly defends the option of a hard break (with Spain) and in this way it is very difficult for radicalisation to go very far,” she added.

by Daniel BOSQUE

Puigdemont to appear before German judge as protests erupt in Catalonia

March 26, 2018

Afp

© Lluis Gene, AFP | Protesters hold a yellow ribbon with a picture of Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont while waving Catalan pro-independence Estelada flags during a demonstration in Barcelona on March 25, 2018.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-03-26

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is to appear in court Monday following his arrest in Germany which triggered a wave of protests in Catalonia where thousands of separatists faced off with police.

German police arrested Puigdemont on Sunday, after he crossed the border from Denmark, under a European warrant issued by Spain.

The arrest comes five months after Puigdemont went on the run as Spanish prosecutors sought to charge him with sedition and rebellion in the wake of a vote by the Catalan parliament to declare independence.

According to his lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, he was on his way to Belgium, where he had initially fled after Spanish authorities moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia.

Puigdemont will be brought before a German judge on Monday to confirm his identity. A court will then decide if he is to remain in custody pending extradition proceedings.

Calling the situation “very delicate”, Alonso-Cuevillas told Catalonia’s Rac1 radio it was “very likely that he will not be allowed to leave Germany”.

Julian Assange @JulianAssange

In 1940 the elected president of Catalonia, Lluís Companys, was captured by the Gestapo, at the request of Spain, delivered to them and executed. Today, German police have arrested the elected president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, at the request of Spain, to be extradited.

22:10 – 25 Mar 2018

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Clashes erupted as protesters took to the streets in Catalonia on Sunday following his arrest.

Catalan police decked out in riot gear shoved and hit demonstrators with batons to keep the crowd from advancing on the office of the Spanish government’s representative in Barcelona, the capital of the wealthy northeastern region.

Officers fired warning shots in the air to try to contain the demonstrators, who pushed large recycling containers towards police. Some people threw glass bottles, cans and eggs at police.

Some 90 people were slightly injured during the protests in Barcelona, including 22 police officers, emergency services said.

Another seven people were injured at a protest in Lleida, about 150 kilometres west of Barcelona and one person was injured in Tarragona to the south.

It is the latest chapter in a secession saga that has bitterly divided Catalans and triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

‘Not the end’

“It angers us that they arrested Puigdemont, he is our highest representative,” 22-year-old architecture student Judit Carapena told AFP at the protest.

Spain’s central government should not “sing victory because it is not the end of separatism, far from it”, she added.

Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent appealed for calm in an address broadcast on regional television.

“I have no doubt that Catalan society will act as it always has, with non-violence,” he said.

Aside from Puigdemont, nine other Catalan separatist leaders are in jail in Spain over the region’s failed bid for independence.

Puigdemont’s arrest comes two days after Spain’s supreme court issued international arrest warrants for 13 Catalan separatists including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull.

The court said they would be prosecuted for “rebellion”, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Twelve more face less serious charges like disobedience.

Issuing the warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, Judge Pablo Llarena accused the ousted Catalan leader of organising an independence referendum in October last year despite a ban from Madrid.

Puigdemont had been visiting Finland since Thursday, but slipped out of the Nordic country before Finnish police could detain him.

While separatist parties won Catalonia’s regional elections in December called by Madrid, they have been unable to elect a president and form a government as they have picked candidates who are now either in exile, in jail or facing prosecution.

After Puigdemont was forced to withdraw his bid for the presidency as he could not return to Spain without facing arrest, another pro-independence leader Jordi Sanchez followed suit when a judge refused to let him out of jail to be sworn in. The third candidate, Turull, was placed in custody on Friday.

Fresh regional elections will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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Catalan separatists face reality check after leader Carles Puigdemont’s detention in Germany

March 26, 2018

BLOOMBERG

Image may contain: 3 people, text and outdoor

 A pro-independence demonstrator holds a poster with of a photo of Carles Puigdemont, the deposed leader of Catalonia’s pro-independence party, during a protest in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday. | AP

Carles Puigdemont’s removal from Catalonia’s political scene to a German jail forces the separatist movement to make a decision: keep bickering on the way ahead, or set aside differences and form a regional government.

The former Catalan president’s detention in Germany on Sunday was hailed by anti-separatist forces as a decisive blow against the push for Catalan independence. In a boost for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont now exits the political stage, at least for now, and is unable to influence events in Barcelona.

 

Yet pending Puigdemont’s return to Spain, the risk is his detention will act as the catalyst needed to pressure sparring separatist camps into unity three months after regional elections.

“It’s time to build a common front to defend individual and collective rights and liberties,” Roger Torrent, the speaker of the Catalan parliament, said on Twitter in response to Puigdemont’s arrest.

Spain is struggling to move on from the events of late last year when the force of separatist sentiment in Catalonia ran into the rock of the central government in Madrid’s refusal to let Puigdemont’s attempt to split the region from Spain succeed. Protests on the streets of Barcelona on Sunday were a reminder that the wounds are far from healed.

“At first sight, it all looks such a mess,” said Caroline Gray, lecturer at Aston University in the U.K. who specializes in nationalist movements. “But the fact is that political life goes on and Catalonia still needs a government.”

Puigdemont was held by German highway police on Sunday near the Danish border after attending a weekend event in Finland. He has been living in exile in Brussels since October, when Rajoy used emergency powers to sack the Catalan president and disband his government after his attempt to declare a republic, an act in breach of Spain’s constitution.

While Madrid went about restoring Spain’s constitutional order in Catalonia, judges began a crackdown that culminated in a Supreme Court judge declaring on Friday that Puigdemont and other separatist leaders would face prosecution for rebellion.

It was another blow to the secessionist campaign that has been in limbo since separatist parties emerged with a narrow majority in December’s regional elections. With Puigdemont in self-exile and other leaders abroad or in jail, they have so far failed to form a government.

An attempt to elect as president Jordi Turull, the spokesman of Puigdemont’s former government, failed last week when the radical separatist party CUP abstained from voting for him. Turull was himself jailed on remand on Friday, forcing the Catalan parliament to abandon a second attempt to hold a vote to make him president.

Attention will now focus on how Catalan and Spanish political forces respond to Puigdemont’s detention, said Gray. One outcome could be the CUP deputies being forced to rethink their decision to abstain. Eyes will also be on the Catalunya en Comu platform linked to the anti-austerity party Podemos to see if they might support efforts to elect a government, she said.

Puigdemont’s detention is a “big hit” for the separatist movement because he has been central to its narrative in recent months, said Pablo Simon, a political science professor at Carlos III University in Madrid. Even so, it may also help to focus their energies on ensuring a new government is formed, he said.

To be sure, not everyone is convinced that Puigdemont’s detention changes things much.

“In the short term, it will lead to calls for the separatist movement to be more united,” said Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. “In the end though, the internal divisions are there and I don’t think they’re going to disappear.”

Catalonia’s deadlocked politics have implications across the Spanish political spectrum. The tough legal crackdown on separatism sits badly with the Basque nationalists whose votes Rajoy’s minority government needs to pass a budget and other important legislation. That friction may mean that a regional government in Catalonia ultimately helps Rajoy’s case with the Basques.

The Catalan crisis has meanwhile helped Ciudadanos, the pro-Spain force that won the most votes of any party in the regional elections, vault over Rajoy’s People’s Party to take the lead in national opinion polls. Its leader Albert Rivera celebrated Puigdemont’s detention Sunday in a tweet that said “the flight of the coup-monger is finished.”